Last time in Paris; leaving the Musee Rodin and walking along boulevard des Invalides, a woman came hurrying from the direction of the Metro. She was so Paris. Having no time to do anything other than wind on the film and shoot the Nikon from the hip I made a picture. The negative was overexposed and out of focus, her feet cut off, but I liked the print very much. A rushing Camille Claudel scurrying by. As the best photos often aren’t intended, this time I brought to Paris a borrowed, Kodak Diana. A toy like camera, with a plastic lens, that leaks light, unevenly exposes film, overlaps frames and produces softly focussed, hazy, whimsical and often unintended images. And so when light and things and locations don’t conspire to create a picture, the Diana perhaps could come up with something. Diana was the Roman goddess of the hunt and the Greeks knew her as Artemis. Artemis and Apollo were twins and both were archers. Apollo spread disease with his arrows while Artemis shot bad women with hers. She shot them with arrows that moaned.
Saturday, September 10
Roissy Airport, 6.30 am, already 20 degrees, going to be a warm day. Joelle said that Paris could be sunny and hot in September. I’m disappointed. I’d hoped for Autumn weather; overcast skies, people wrapped in overcoats disappearing around corners, threatening storm clouds over the Pantheon, car headlights reflecting off wet roads, those kinds of fugitive things. Photography is so good at arresting things on the run. Summer weather isn’t going to suit the kinds of photographs I hope to make. Some of my favourite photos were made by Robert Frank. Frank’s book Paris and he photographed in London in the early 1950s. Hazy, grey streets, dark suits, in his photos you can feel the chill air. I remember a walk along the Thames in Richmond in 1975. It was foggy, cold and I had borrowed Joelle’s fur coat. But that would have been November, not September.
Gare du Nord is exhausted following a summer of travellers. After breakfast off a worn Formica café table sticky with humidity we walk the two kilometres to Montmartre. Along rue de Dunkerque, right into boulevard Magenta, left into boulevard de Rochechourt, continue into boulevard de Clichy, past Place Pigalle and Place Blanche, the Moulin Rouge, Corcoran’s Irish Pub then right into avenue Rachel and down to number 16. If you knocked a hole in the wall behind the apartment’s divan bed you would step into a Montmartre Cemetery tomb. I’d visited Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise where Jim Morrison is buried and Cimetiere Montparnasse where Baudelaire, author of The Flowers Of Evil is buried but I’m yet to visit Cimetiere de Montmartre.
Climbing rue Ravignan, the light rain persists. At the Musee de Montmartre, painter and model Suzanne Valadon is pictured naked in a photograph. She took composer, Erik Satie for a lover but it didn’t last. Satie would yearn for her next door at 6 rue Cortot. The colours of the flowers in the garden at Musee de Montmartre are intense. The geraniums so red they pulse. They are full of blood. In rue Lepic, in front of Moulin de la Galette, where the owner’s body was crucified on the windmill’s sails, the borrowed Diana smashes. The hardly used, part of the history of photography, Kodak Diana floats through the air like a piece of confetti, strikes the cobblestones and shatters. The lens isn’t damaged and the shutter works, but a chunk of plastic has sheared from the top and part of the viewfinder has become unglued and rattles around inside. It’s still possible to take pictures but looking through the viewfinder the world is a complete blur. Rather than a huntress, the Diana has been reduced to the Cyclops whose one eye was put out by Odysseus; the Cyclopes, the creatures that fashioned the helmet that made Hades, god of death, invisible.
Sunday, September 11
Last time in Notre Dame it was January, night had fallen, deep winter, few tourists about and the vocalist had the voice of an angel. This morning, the vocalist is a man, the singing earthly and there are many tourists about. The hum produced by the quietly spoken voices moving around the seated congregation is strangely reassuring. My map says the site of Notre Dame has been a place of devotion for more than 2000 years.
Over Cimetiere de Montmartre stretches the green steel bridge of rue Gaulaincourt. Along Samson avenue is Francois Truffault’s plain, matter of fact grave. Just a slab of polished stone. A hand written note, sodden by drizzling rain and held down by small stones declares in English, “I love you Truffault.”
Late afternoon, off to the Rex Cinema. Passing the corner of boulevard de Bonne Nouvelle and rue de la Lune there’s the bookstore that had a box of Max’s books when I came through Paris from Sicily in 2000. There are still stocks of Max’s books in the store. The Rex Cinema is a disappointment. I know it from a black and white photograph that pictures a scene from Gotham City, with the Rex, at night, film noir like and menacing. In this late afternoon light, the Rex is just over looked and tired art deco. Sitting at the café opposite, we order drinks and wait for the Rex’s lights to come on. Not all come on. Perhaps the Diana can do something?
Around the corner in rue du Faubourg Montmartre is the restaurant Joelle had read about. It’s packed, we are taken to a table for four already occupied by a young couple. We are about to spoil their evening. Joelle apologises. The food arrives quickly. The young man says locals know the restaurant as the jaw factory. It has a rapid turnover of patrons. My frites arrive cold. Colette said you should never eat in a Paris restaurant on a Sunday. The young man and young woman both speak French, German and English. He would rather live in Berlin; less populated and less polluted than Paris. She lives in Berlin and is visiting Paris. He is writing a thesis on trust law. She has finished hers about women and religion. I ask if she means religion or just Christianity. Just Catholicism from a feminist perspective. She hasn’t read Camille Paglia’s Sexual Personae but she is reading Julia Kristeva. He claims that more than half the men in French prisons are there for sex crimes. We talk about Roland Barthes and his book Camera Lucida, a book about photos as wounds rather than as signs. The young man says there is a good view of the Rex from the roof of the building where he lives.
Monday, September 12
An attendant in a double-breasted suit the colour of dust, says today is the last day photography will be permitted in the Louvre. The Louvre will be closed on Tuesday then on Wednesday photography will no longer be allowed. He says management wants to sell more postcards.